MOULTONBOROUGH — Paige Sturgeon hopes that her two teenagers will soon be able to attend high school in Moultonborough without having to wear a face mask.
“It doesn’t make sense to us,” Sturgeon said. “If we have no one in our school district and no teachers and staff that are sick, why are we masking?
“My daughter passed out last year. Masks were required, she was running, she had a lack of oxygen and couldn’t breathe.”
She also said her children get headaches after wearing masks.
Voters will cast ballots at a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday on whether masks should be optional. There are differing opinions on whether the vote will be binding or advisory.
Masks are now required inside schools and on buses because there is a high level of community transmission of the virus in Carroll County as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Pat Hart, the school board chairman.
Community transmission throughout the county is a proper metric because people don’t just stay in the school district all the time, he said.
“We have one grocery store,” Hart said. “A lot of us don’t work in town. We travel all throughout the county and in Belknap County.”
The CDC said that as of Tuesday there were 128 cases in the county, four new hospital admissions, a test positivity rate of 6.94 percent and 70 percent of the eligible population has been vaccinated.
Sturgeon said people no longer wear masks in many indoor spaces.
“There is one reality when we go out in public and then a different reality when our kids are going into our schools,” she said. “We’re not against people wearing masks. If that’s what they want to do, and that helps them feel safe, then I think that’s great.
“I want everyone to be respected, but the school board isn’t respecting the parents or the students who don’t want to wear a mask, for emotional reasons, to medical reasons, to anxiety.”
She said different school districts in the state have taken different approaches, with some not making face masks mandatory. A high vaccination rate in the county and the fact that children tend not to have serious outcomes with the virus also argue against masking, she said.
A state Health and Human Services Department COVID-19 dashboard shows no deaths from the virus in public school age young people in the state and 32 hospitalizations in those 19 and under. Of course, young people with the virus could spread it to other vulnerable groups.
Hart said the goal should be to avoid remote learning. Raymond High School had to close its doors and teach classes remotely because of a COVID-19 outbreak last week. He also said other school districts that started with a mask-optional approach made indoor masking a requirement after viral outbreaks.
Opponents of mask use have been outspoken, but there has also been community support for the present policy, Hart said.
“I do see the argument,” he said. “I do agree that masks make it difficult for communication and facial expression.
“I’d love to see some studies on long-term social and emotional health. The stuff that gets thrown out about the physical health, I don’t agree with. Johns Hopkins University and the Mayo Clinic have pretty strong data that mask wearing is safe. Maybe it’s uncomfortable and not fun to do, but it’s safe.”
The special meeting is occurring under state statute following a petition drive.
Proponents say the results of the vote should be binding, but a school district attorney says policy decisions are the province of the school board and that the vote will be advisory only.